Bolpur-Shantiniketan, situated at a distance of 164kms from Kolkata in the Birbhum District of West Bengal is perfect for a weekend getaway for a short but refreshing break. Since a very young age when my mother and grandmother used to teach me Rabindra Sangeet ( Songs composed by Rabindranath Tagore) that a tiny desire crept up in my heart to visit Shantiniketan. As I knew that is the place where Kabi Guru as we call him with respect and love lived and established Viswa Bharati University. After so many years I got the chance to visit A weekend trip of a day or two is enough to explore the place.
But if you want to have the real feel of the place I would suggest staying a few days. As a kid, I would ask my mother where did Rabindranath Tagore live, about his family, his work and every little detail. And my mom without losing any patience used to narrate to me and my sister his short stories and sometimes his poems too as bedtime stories. My mother who is a retired subject teacher of Bengali has a good hold over the Bengali language and literature. “Chuti” a very popular Tagore classic short story was my and my sister’s favourite bedtime story and I asked my mother to tell it to us almost every other night and she would narrate everything so beautifully.
Now when my husband is staying in Kolkata I took the opportunity to visit Bolpur. If you had your full share of Kolkata city visit and want to experience rural Bengal than the best thing to do is visit Bolpur. It is also the high seat of learning, filled up of scholars, students at the Viswa Bharati University which attracts students from different corners of our country and the world.
How to reach Bolpur?
It is very easy to reach Bolpur for which you can hire a car/cab to reach Bolpur. It’s just 4-5 hours drive from Kolkata. And if you want to travel on a budget the best thing is to take a train. We travelled by the Express in the AC Chair Car and it was way more comfortable than what I had expected. On way back, we boarded the Express which was again a similar train. I think travelling by train is the best option as you can have a glimpse of rural Bengal. Nevertheless, you can check the IRCTC app for trains running to and from Bolpur to Kolkata and vice-versa.
Where to stay in Bolpur?
There are lots of beautiful resorts in Bolpur, I have noticed a few while I was exploring the place. There are homestays also where you can enjoy a comfortable stay. I was there for a day trip and so I didn’t book any hotel but yes, one of my friends told me that Baul Mon Resort is a nice and comfortable place to stay. Also, you can check the hotel booking website as I have seen most of the reviews are quite nice and positive. Rater Tara Diner Robi is another place to stay. Most of the hotels are clean and have a quiet atmosphere and are available for online booking.
How to visit the places for tourist attractions when in Bolpur
So after you reach Bolpur the next question is how to arrange your tour. You need not to worry as there are so many tom-toms or may be also called as to-to, the battery operated public rides all over Bolpur. You can hire one for a full day ride at just Rs. 400-500. Ask then to show you around all the important places. If you are planning to cover the whole Bolpur in a day, it may be quite hectic so I would suggest sparing another day to enjoy your journey and get the real feel of Santiniketan.
Where to eat in Bolpur
There are lots of places but the one that I want to recommend is Shakuntala which is located within Sonajhuri. They serve food in the most traditional Bengali way. Food is served on lotus leaves on mud plates and water and other items are too served on mud plates which are quite unique. There are a few more places to eat in Sonajhuri but you must try out this one.
Let’s begin with the top places for tourist attractions in Bolpur
1 Konkalimata temple
This was the first place I visited. It’s a very famous Kali temple located at a distance of approximately 14kms from main Bolpur town. I think it’s pretty fabulous if you get to start your journey by paying a visit to the temple. Many devotees from far-flung areas visit this temple to offer their prayers. Make sure you also enjoy some Baul sangeet in the temple area. When I was there I saw a group performing Baul sangeet and I sat there to enjoy for a while.
2. Kopai River
The Kopai river, a tributary of the Mayurakshi rivers flows past Santiniketan and offers a major tourist attraction. nearby. But since we visited it during winter the river had almost dried up and nothing but a small string of water was all that lay in front of us. So we refrained from getting into the banks. We watched it from the main road and returned.
3. Ballavpur Wildlife Sanctuary and Deer Park
Located in Sriniketan, which is around 3 km from Shantiniketan, Deer Park is an exciting place which you should not skip when you are in Bolpur. It’s one of the top tourist attraction places in Bolpur. There is a large number of deer in a lush green forest which is quite contrasting in a place which is otherwise so famous for culture, art, heritage, literature and tradition.
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4. Sonajhuri Haat
Well, this was one of the places I was literally dying to visit. The Sonajhuri Haat is a weekly market that sells various kinds of handmade items. It’s, in fact, a huge market that spreads over a large area located in the forest full of Sonajhuri, shall trees. The market is located on the bank of Kopai river which has found a special mention in one of Rabindranath Tagore’s poem ” Amader Choto Nodi”. The Sonajhuri haat is held every Saturday but for tourists, the Haat is open almost every day from 10 am till dusk, as there are no lights so after dark the market is closed.
People from nearby village sell their handmade items which include, terracotta or clay dolls, neckpieces, other jewellery, Ektara and other locally made musical instruments, Batik printed garments and other home decor items, Kantha Stitch for which Bolpur is very famous is popularly sold here, Kantha stitch stoles, dupattas, sarees, notebooks, bags, and what not. Make sure you carry a lot of cash as the market is quite tempting and you can collect lots of gift items for your loved ones back home. Our guide told us that the items are mainly made by the tribal people who stay in Bolpur. I am also writing a full detailed post on the Sonajhuri Haat as a small paragraph is not enough to share the details with you.
5. Buddha Stupa
On way to Srijoni Shilpagram, your total driver will insist you visit the Buddha Stupa which is maintained by Santiniketan Ambedkar Buddhist Welfare Mission quite unique in Bolpur. A huge Buddha Statue is definitely worth your visit. The location is still under construction but you can have a look. Surrounding the statue is the local tribal villages which you can have a look.
6. Srijoni Shilpagram
Srijoni Shilpagram is the cultural hub that showcases the tradition, culture, heritage, musical instruments, paintings, type of weaves of the North-Eastern States – Assam, Manipur, Tripura, Sikkim and also of Jharkhand, Odisha, Bihar and Andaman and the Nicobar Islands. There are small museums dedicated to each state made of mud and bamboo and also very artistically painted depending on the traditional paintings of the respective states. So you can get a glimpse of the tribal culture of these states where there are dominant tribes each having its own unique identity. Just as the entrance there is also an art gallery featuring the Folk paintings. And the best part is you can take photographs. The entry ticket is just Rs10 and you need around two hours to walk around the whole complex.
6. The Uttarayana Complex
The Ashram is the main area where there are several buildings each deeply associated with Rabindranath Tagore.
The Uttarayana Complex is the main part where there are the houses where Rabindranath Tagore lived at various points of his life. There is a total of three houses but one was closed due to renovation work. This area also has the museum known as “Udayan”.
On the opposite side of the road is The Shantiniketan Griha, the first house built by Rabindranath Tagore’s father Maharshi Debendranath. There is also “The Chatimtala”, Chatim each (Alstonia scholaris tree under which Maharshi Debendranath Tagore meditated). The Upasana Griha (Meditational Hall) built of Belgium glass and marble steps by Tagore’s father in 1863 is also located in the same area. Then there are the hostels and various departments some of which are Patha Bhavana, Kala Bhavana, Cheena Bhavana, Vidya Bhavana, Sangeet Bhavana, Hindi Bhavana, Ananda Pathshala. In a single day, it is difficult to explore everything. So I would suggest keeping at least two days on your itinerary.
7. The Museum- Bichitra
Bichitra was Tagore’s sixth house built by his son and now serving as a museum which is also located within the Uttarayan Complex. It is one such place that you must not leave even a single corner unexplored. There are hand written letters by Tagore himself, manuscripts of his various compositions, photographs with his family members, students, gifts that he has received from various people across the globe, letters of congratulations on receiving the Nobel Prize, utensils, painting brushes and colours and what not.
8. Tagore’s houses inside the Uttarayana Complex
Tagore lived at five different houses during various stages and times of his life. There are in total five houses, namely- Udichi, Udayana, Konarka, Shamali and Punascha. A glass house also displays the car used by Tagore. On visiting inside the house it literally gave me goosebumps. There were the sofas, chairs, beds, etc where Tagore sat with his students or children and had discussions on various topics. Cameras are allowed only outside but no photography indoors which again made me quite upset.
Interesting festivals and events to attend in Bolpur
- The one that tops the list is the Poush Mela that takes place every month during Bengali month of Poush (mid-December for a week )
- Basanta Utsav, the festival of colours that takes place during Holi is something you must not miss in Santiniketan.
- Nandan Mela, organised by the department of Kala Bhavana of Viswa Bharati to celebrate the birth anniversary of renowned painter Nandalal Bose on 1st and 2nd December. Hand made artefacts by students and teachers are available for purchase during the festival.
- Ananda Bazar that takes place on the day of Mahalaya organised by the Viswa Bharati Students.
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